The Sacsayhuaman Archaeological Park is located on a steep hill that overlooks the city from where one can admire an impressive view of the valley to the southeast. Surface collections of pottery at Sacsayhuaman indicate that the earliest occupation of the hill top dates back at least a millennium. Due to its location high above Cusco and its immense terrace walls, this area of Sacsayhuaman is frequently referred to as a fortress.
A typical visit to the Sacsayhuaman Archaeological Park includes: the Sacsayhuaman fortress, a beautiful place that radiates peace and quiet, built with huge rocks measuring up to 4 meters high; Q’enqo and the ancient temple of the Puma, which features an altar for sacrifices, and Tambomachay, the sacred fountains of life and health.
- Sacsayhuaman Fortress | Sacsayhuaman Archaeological Park, Cusco, Peru: Sacsayhuaman is a walled complex near the old city of Cusco, at an altitude of 3,701 m. or 12,000 feet. The site is part of the City of Cuzco, which was added to the UNESCO World Heritage List in 1983.When the Spanish conquerors first arrived to these lands; they could not explain themselves how Peruvian Indians could have built such greatness.Sacsayhuaman is one of the most imposing architectonic complexes inherited from the Inca society revealing some of the Incas’ most extraordinary architecture and monumental stonework. Usually referred to as a garrison or fortress — because it was constructed with forbidding, castle like walls, it was more likely a religious temple, although most experts believe it also had military significance.The Inca emperor Pachacutec began the site’s construction in the mid-15th century, although it took nearly 100 years and many thousands of men to complete it. Massive blocks of limestone and other types of stone were brought from as far as 32km (20 miles) away.
- Q’enko | Sacsayhuaman Archaeological Park, Cusco, Peru: Q’enko is a great limestone outcrop that was hollowed out by the Incas, and, in the void, they constructed a cave like altar. Some have claimed that the smooth stone table inside was used for animal sacrifices. Visitors can duck into the caves and tunnels beneath the rock or climb on the rock and see the many channels cut into the rock, where it is thought that sacrificial blood coursed during ceremonies. Q’enko might have been a site of ritual ceremonies performed in fertility rites and solstice and equinox celebrations.
- Puca Pucara | Sacsayhuaman Archaeological Park, Cusco, Peru: A small fortress, just off the main Cusco-Pisac road, this might have been some sort of storage facility or lodge, or perhaps a guard post on the road from Cusco to the villages of the Sacred Valley. It is probably the least impressive of the sites in the area, although it has nice views of the surrounding countryside.
- Tambomachay | Sacsayhuaman Archaeological Park, Cusco, Peru: The ruins of Tambomachay, also known as the Inca Baths, consist of three tiers of stone platforms. Water still flows across a sophisticated system of aqueducts and canals in the small complex of terraces and a pool, but these were not baths as we know them. Most likely this was instead a place of water ceremonies and worship. The exquisite stonework indicates that the fountains were used by high priests and nobility only.
- The Sacred Valley of the Incas | Cusco, Peru: The Sacred Valley of the Incas stretches between Cusco, once the capital of the Inca Empire, and the legendary 15th-century city of Machu Picchu. Encompassing what was the fertile homeland of the Inca Empire (1438 to 1533), today the transcendent region -also known as the Urubamba Valley- is a quiet expanse of country that is steeped in Andean history and culture.Many visitors to Peru pass through the region quickly, jumping between Cusco and Aguas Calientes, the base town where many bookend a visit to Machu Picchu. But spending time in the Sacred Valley’s collection of small towns and archaeological sites offers both a glimpse into daily Peruvian life as well as a full picture of the accomplishments and operation of the once-glorious Inca Empire.
Here, modernity and tradition are in equilibrium, with locals respectfully preserving their past, following many indigenous practices and observing centuries-old festivals and celebrations.
- Pisac | The Sacred Valley of the Incas, Cusco, Peru: Pisac is located about 40km southeast of Urubamba and encompasses both a historic town and a striking Inca archaeological site, with a series of steep agricultural terraces and hilltop fortresses visible from the town’s central plaza. There are trails that lead over and through the terraces, tunnels, temples, tombs and ceremonial center, all engineered by the Incas for farming, worshipping and bathing.The Sun Gate, included in many of the Inca’s lofted towns, perfectly frames the setting sun during biannual solstices, as it has and will continue to do for centuries. The splendid views down and across the Urubamba Valley rival those of Machu Picchu, and unlike the iconic site, visitors often have hushed Pisac almost entirely to themselves.In downtown Pisac, one of the Sacred Valley’s largest fairs takes place daily, with Tuesdays, Thursdays and Sundays being the busiest. Vendors peddle handmade goods such as colorful woven knits and traditional Peruvian treats including grilled corn coated with cheese.
- Ollantaytambo | The Sacred Valley of the Incas, Cusco, Peru: Once a country retreat for Inca royalty and nobility, Ollantaytambo is also where the Incas also fought some of their last battles, resisting Spanish conquest from the still intact fortress and staggered terraces rising up around the town. Climbing to the top of the village’s ceremonial center where Incas would worship yields panoramic views of the Sacred Valley, across the Patakancha and Urubamba Rivers.The gridded, cobblestoned town streets are the product of Inca city planning, dating back to the 1200s. Babbling waterways, branching from the nearby rivers, feed the still-flowing irrigation system that the Incas designed, their handiwork admired to this day.
- Maras and Moray | The Sacred Valley of the Incas, Cusco, Peru: Located about 4km southwest of Urubamba, Maras comprises thousands of salt pans, a patchwork landscape of pinks, tans and browns descending into the valley. Originally constructed by the Incas, to this day Peruvians mine the flats, pounding out the salt under the hot sun, wearing wide-brimmed hats and traditional woven Andean dress. Visitors can trek down and around the flats, and small stands sell bags of the variously hued, edible salt.Just a few kilometers to the northwest, Moray is another ingenious Inca agricultural construction, though it is no longer in use. While it resembles a giant amphitheater with concentric terraces leading to the ground, it was created for agricultural experimentation. Each level corresponds to a different microclimate, which the Incas possibly used to test crops. The deepest center part was the hottest, and temperatures decreased as it moves outward, allowing the Incas to determine which climate was best suited to which crop.